The 6 Worst Comic Book Movies Ever Made: A Factual List

One day, under the watchful eyes of good men like Christopher Nolan and Joss Whedon, there won’t be any such thing as a bad comic book movie.  Movie studios will remember that there are lots of comic book writers out there that would probably enjoy writing a film script or two, everything will translate perfectly to the big screen, and the Internet will go out of business due to a shortage of nerd-on-nerd flame wars.  But there will be those of us who still remember the dark times, when studio execs dumped our favorite characters unceremoniously into a meat grinder and we dutifully choked down whatever came out the other end, pausing only occasionally to sob uncontrollably into our oversized foam Hulk Hands.  For those who will grow up never knowing, I commit this list to the Internet to commemorate the suffering of those who came before.  For the record:  this list consists of only movies that I have seen.  Even I won’t sit through everything.  Yes, I have seen Spider-Man: The Deadly Dust, the 60’s Captain America movie, the made-for-TV Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD starring David Hasselhoff, and Superman IV.  None of those are on this list, these movies are all worse.  Also not on the list, The Incredible Hulk Returns, which is where the Thor picture up top comes from.  I loved that movie.

#6. The Fantastic Four franchise (2005, 2007)

This was more interesting than any screen shot I could dig up from the movies.

The many farmed-out Marvel properties have had varying theatrical success in the hands of other studios, and there have been a lot of bad ones.  This, however, is at the absolute top of the list of things I’d like to see Marvel and Disney take back, by force if necessary.  With the sole exception of The Thing, which really just requires a grumbly guy in a rock suit who can be sad sometimes, The Fantastic Four and its sequel are miscast from top to bottom.  Other than the premise “Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm do not get along”, literally everything about the comics was thrown out the window.  Dr. Doom has electric metal businessman powers, and Galactus is a giant space cloud.  Sue Storm is back to being horrible and useless just like in the 60’s, when the only superpower available to women was messing things up and needing rescued.  The Fantasticar is literally just a commercial for Dodge.  Who…I guess…was promoting a commercially available flying car for four?  I’m not even sure.  Every time the subject of bad comic book movies comes up, someone who read a blog post about it on the Internet always brings up 1994’s doomed Roger Corman version of Fanstastic Four.  Don’t be fooled! Shot in a couple weeks on a budget of about $40, never intended to be released, and available only via comic convention bootleggers, it’s still a better and more faithful adaptation than either of Fox’s big budget attempts.  If you absolutely have to see a live action version of Marvel’s first family, for now that’s your best bet.

#5. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) 

$150 million, and no costume department

After three financially successful films, Fox launched a $150 million campaign to drive the X-Men franchise as far into the ground as they possibly could.  Maybe it was some sort of brilliant meta-marketing scheme to get people to hate mutants in real life?  Regardless of the reasoning behind it, X-Men Origins: Wolverine succeeded in making Brett Ratner’s X-3 look like the Citizen Kane of superhero films.  Deadpool couldn’t talk, Gambit was only Cajun for every third line of dialogue, and Sabretooth was a well-groomed dreamboat.  Despite a massive special effects budget and the fact that they’d done it three other times, the CGI artists couldn’t even manage to keep Wolverine’s claws attached to his hands for an entire action scene.  I spent the whole movie watching in amazement as they just moved about mysteriously and of their own accord.  This was meant to be the first in a series of “Origins” films for various X-Men characters, but the whole thing was littered with more chronologically improbable fanservice cameos than a Star Wars prequel, which would have rendered most future installments impossible.  The entire thing was so unsalvageable that Fox eventually just threw up their hands and started completely over with 2011’s X-Men: First Class.

#4. Hulk

Not pictured: Donkey, Puss-in-Boots

In 2003, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon director Ang Lee teamed up with a team of skilled MS Paint animators to bring us the Hulk’s first live-action outing since Lou Ferrigno hung up the big ripped shorts.  It was innovative in that Ang Lee tried hard to make it look like a comic book, with interesting “panel transitions” between scenes and other nods to the medium.  Unfortunately, Ang Lee had never actually read any of these comics, and the whole thing turned into a big, sprawling mess.   A superhero movie needs a good villain to function, and to call Hulk lacking in that department would be generous.  He punches some tanks, he punches some really strong dogs, and then at the end an aging Nick Nolte transforms into a giant shapeshifting tornado of some sort, and he punches that for a while.  A lot of people went to see it, because in 2003 we all still wanted to believe that comic book movies were all going to be awesome.  So the movie enjoyed a single weekend at number one, then suffered the second-biggest box office drop of all time once word of mouth set in.  Studios will usually do anything to keep their hands on big-name comic book properties, and Universal just threw in the towel after this one, admitting they didn’t know what they were doing and allowing the rights to revert back to Marvel.

#3. Superman Returns (2006)

I’ll never pay child suppooooooorrrt

“Hey, you know what people would probably really like?” mused a table of Warner Brothers executives.  “If Superman had just rolled out after Superman II.  Like, you know…just abandoned Earth completely”.  “I don’t know”, said one lone voice of dissension, “What else ya got?”.  “Well…it could be a big metaphor.  Like, the Earth is an illegitimate child, and Superman is its deadbeat dad who never even sees it on weekends.  To hammer home the point, we’ll make Superman an actual deadbeat dad.  Like to a real kid.  Also we’re going to funnel our entire effects budget into another real estate scheme for Lex Luthor.  Kids love real estate schemes!”.  This, I can only imagine, is the actual conversation that led to the production of Superman Returns.  I’m no huge proponent of the Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve versions, don’t get me wrong.  They’re alright for 70’s nostalgia, but by 2003 the world needed a great Superman movie.  He’s a great iconic character with a vastly underappreciated roster of villains, and it would be so easy to throw together two hours of the world’s ultimate good guy just punching Darkseid right in his evil wrinkly face.  But no, they went with the storyline where Superman has fathered a child with Lois Lane, and doesn’t really seem to care.  He’s too busy trying to stop Lex Luthor, who once again is trying to destroy a vast area of land, thereby making the land he owns more valuable.  Because yeah…that held up in the 70’s and it’s probably just as good now.

#2. Ghost Rider (2007)

Guys, when do we set my head on fire? Now?

Nic Cage is like a real-life Lenny from Of Mice and Men.  Sometimes, he just loves a thing so much that all he can do is squeeze it until it dies.  This was the case with his 2007 outing as Marvel’s Spirit of Vengeance in Ghost Rider.  And presumably the sequel as well, which I wanted to see, but decided instead to set ten dollars on fire and pretend Alexander Hamilton was Ghost Rider.  This movie is great if you’re a fan of seeing a jittery Nic Cage point furiously at people, but otherwise I’d probably skip it.  The dual villains are Blackheart, played by the creepy neighbor kid from American Beauty, and Peter Fonda more or less playing himself.  Ghost Rider also features a cameo by eternal cowboy Sam Elliot, who is literally only in the movie so he can ride a flaming horse across the desert while “Ghost Riders in the Sky” plays in the background.  Seriously, with the impending climactic battle only moments away, that is how his character chooses to expend the last of his crazy hell-powers.  Flaming ride across the desert.  And Ghost Rider is okay with that, because hey, it looks awesome right?  It certainly must have made an impression, because five years later it’s pretty much the only thing I remember about the whole movie.  This would have been my pick for Marvel comics film least likely to get a sequel, until it did.

#1. Batman Returns (1992)  

“Anybody who knows me knows I would never read a comic book” –Tim Burton

That’s right, Batman Returns is my least favorite comic book movie of all time.  It’s the Hitler of superhero films.  In fact, I wrote this entire article because I was awake in bed for 45 minutes last night thinking about how much I hated a two decade old Batman movie.  It’s got a lot of problems, but I think what makes me hate it the most is how many people claim that they love it.  Seriously?  Have you seen it?  Tim Burton made Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, then he made Beetlejuice, and then he stopped making good movies, forever.  Everything else is either a sloppy pile of homages, a two-hour theatrical rendition of a ballpoint pen napkin drawing he did when he was nine, or a poor remake of a much better story.  Batman Returns has the honor of being all three combined into one steaming heap.  The Penguin is a mash-up of Dr. Caligari and Jimmy the Hideous Penguin Boy, one of Burton’s aforementioned Bic pen scrawlings.  No connection can be drawn between this character and The Penguin as seen in any other format, and DeVito couldn’t carry Burgess Meredith’s cigarette holder in a suitcase.  Catwoman is now a murdered secretary brought back to life when a bunch of cats lick her face in an alley, because why the hell not.  Just in case people didn’t get Tim Burton’s Dr. Caligari reference,  he throws an unnecessary third villain into the mix named Max Shreck, just so people know that he likes German impressionist horror films.  Still not convinced?  Check out these backgrounds!  The plot is a loosely stitched-together horrorshow of mismatched components: The Red Triangle Circus Gang, Penguin’s parents didn’t love him so revenge!, Selina Kyle gets killed and is now a cat themed criminal for some reason, Penguin steals a bunch of babies, Penguin runs for Mayor, creepy love triangle, Max Shreck is an evil industrialist, Gotham City’s sewers are full of penguins somehow, etc, etc.  Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies are objectively better than Tim Burton’s Batman movies, and I can give you a million reasons why.  There, I said it.

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About Ryan Searles

I like watching movies, and then talking about those movies. Sometimes I write things about them, which you should read. Other interests include boxed wine, video games, the works of Harlan Ellison and HG Wells, and being a general curmudgeon.

Posted on June 28, 2012, in Comics, Movies, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I see where you’re coming from with Batman Returns, but I still think Batman and Robin was worse. Great list!

  2. Batman and Robin (and Batman Forever) at least succeed in their mission: to be over-the-top, campy Batman movies. They exist in their own little bubble, not dragging anything else down with them. Tim Burton’s awfulness leaked out into other versions of Batman for a little while in the early 90’s, and for that I will always hate Batman Returns.

  3. And presumably the sequel as well, which I wanted to see, but decided instead to set ten dollars on fire and pretend Alexander Hamilton was Ghost Rider. < I laughed my ass off at this statement. thanks for the good laugh
    What about Daredevil? I thought that was a steaming pile of crap much worse than X-Men Origins: Wolverine the only thing good about that movie was Michael Clarke Duncan and Colin Farrell i guess at least there were solid villains in that one so….Meh

  4. You know what’s awesome though? Daredevil, R-Rated Director’s Cut. Less Elektra, more Kingpin and Bullseye. Amazing how much that turns the whole movie around. Having seen that, there’s no way to put the movie on any sort of worst-of list.

  5. Really? This certainly can’t be a list of the worst superhero movies, as Elektra is nowhere to be found (a movie with a Rotten Tomatoes’ score that’s 16% less than the worst scored movie on your list, which was Ghost Rider at 26%). As for Fantastic Four, I disagree that the whole movie was poorly cast; short of Jessica Biel, I’d say everyone did a really good job, especially Chris Evans (he pulls of a good Johnny Storm and Captain America).

    • Jessica Biel?

      And wouldn’t it be a boring world if I wrote all my articles by consulting aggregate review scores? I’d really have to rethink my yearly top 5 games lists. 🙂

  6. Elektra
    Batman & Robin
    The Punisher (Dolph Lundgren version)
    Catwoman
    Superman III

    Hi-five everyone, now all the lists on the internet match!

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